Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Remembering Black Saturday

Every part of the world, it seems, has its meteorological hazards with the potential for death and destruction.  There are monsoons, typhoons, hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards.  But I'm guessing that one of the most frightening is a fast-moving bushfire in southern Australia.

Standing like sentinels over the Steavenson River in Marysville, Victoria, are these towering burnt out trees.  They are some of the remains of Black Saturday, 7 February 2009, when bushfires spread--well, like wildfire--throughout this region just northeast of Melbourne.  After extensive drought and daytime temperatures of close to 50 degrees Celsius, several blazes began.  The fronts of the fires traveled at 100 kilometers per hour, and cinders and branches were pushed ahead of the firestorm for extensive distances.  Fire tornadoes were witnessed.

Beyond the property damage, leaving over 7000 people homeless, 173 lives were lost.  The small historic town of Marysville was one of the hardest hit, in terms of the percentage of its population who died. The town's cemetery listing above tells part of the story.  The entire story is told in this documentary.

Here's a satellite picture of the fire just before the winds shifted and sent the front through Marysville.

The town is set in a bowl-shaped area, surrounded by ridges. The fires traveled up those ridges in seconds and then sent projectiles down into the town, igniting and destroying almost everything and leaving people with little chance of escape.

In the image below, people take shelter in the cricket oval in the middle of town.  It was the safest place to wait.  But as they waited, they saw virtually the entire towning burning around them.  Among those waiting were the local firefighters who had to suffer through the constant pinging of their pagers and cell phones as people called for help.  But they were unable to help.  There was simply no way to defeat this fast moving set of fires.  To attempt would have meant death for the firefighters.

Meanwhile, down by the river, huge updrafts pulled large trees up out of the soil, including their root balls, and then lay them down:

Until this set of fires, the general rule in the region was to stay home and protect your property when bush fires came through.  That rule has now been changed to "protect yourself."

Sentinels remain to remind people of the events that occurred seven years ago next month. Mourning of loved ones, survivor guilt, loneliness, and physical and emotional disorientation remain as symptoms.

1 comment:

Pat said...

Ghastly,awful. But at least the thinking has changed. Somewhat like our ongoing active shooter situations here--no more waiting by First Responders--immediate approach with potentially life-saving outcomes.

Terrible times we live in. Thank you again for your insightful efforts!
May 2016 be safe,healthy and happy one for you and family.